Monday, 9 February 2015

Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doe

Book: All the Light We Cannot See

Author: Anthony Doerr

Publisher: Scribner

Pages: 544 Pages

Format: Hardcover

Source: Purchased at Chapters Indigo

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure's agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.

In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.

Doerr's gorgeous combination of soaring imagination with observation is electric. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, All the Light We Cannot See is his most ambitious and dazzling work.

I'm constantly drawn to Historical Fiction revolving around the second world war. It's mostly because it's such a rich setting, with the stakes set so high, but it's also because I love survival stories. I love reading about people who against all odds survive. And I think that's why I loved this one so much, and why it has had such an impact on me. I finished this about 2 weeks ago, and not a day goes by that I'm not thinking about Werner or Marie-Laure.

The way that this story is told, back and forth between characters and years and locations made it feel like I was there, an active participant, instead of just a viewer. I felt like I was apart of the story. But this only worked because Doerr's characters were palpable. These characters were not passive, in any sense of the word. Every single character I read demanded attention and affection. They grabbed onto my heart and by the time I realized this, they were there to stay.

I was fascinated by Marie Laure, and not only her character, but the way that the author doesn't let her blindness impair his writing. His focus on voices, and the descriptions of the silence was just as effective as the descriptions of what is being said. And it caused me to create two distinct worlds, one for Marie Laure, and one for Werner. And while Marie's world was one of discovery, Werner's was one of survival. There were some lines that were said during Werner's narrative, and oh my god they broke my heart because I understood the severity of the context.

Anthony Doerr ripped my heart apart, and put it back together, and ripped it again. I have no words to put to this story, as it is not something to be taken lightly. This story gives me the same feeling that the finale of Les Miserables gives me - one of immense sadness, yet this overwhelming sense of hope. The idea that nothing will ever be the same again, yet there are so many better things to come. This story is an experience from start to finish, that needs to be regarded as a classic piece of literature. I love this.

6/5 stars. Easily one of my favourite of 2014, and of all time.

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